Turkey can’t be allowed to hold NATO membership hostage any longer, says Swedish journalists union

The president of the Swedish Journalists' Association (Journalistförbundet) Ulrika Hyllert, Photo by Tor Johnsson

The president of the Swedish Journalists’ Association (Journalistförbundet) has called on the authorities in Sweden to take measures to protect Turkish journalists in exile in that country and to not allow Turkey to use the country’s NATO membership bid as a bargaining chip for the extradition of journalists.

In an article published by the Expressen newspaper on Monday, Ulrika Hyllert said Turkish journalists in exile in Sweden are being targeted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who she said takes advantage of Sweden’s pending application for membership in the Western defense alliance and that Swedish authorities must provide protection for these journalists.

NATO member Turkey is threatening to derail Sweden and Finland’s attempts to join the alliance unless it extradites dozens of people Ankara accuses of “terrorism,” including some exiled Turkish journalists living in Sweden.

Hyllert explained that exiled journalists from Turkey living in Sweden have always been at risk, but with Sweden’s application to join NATO, the pressure on these journalists has increased.

Turkish journalists in exile in Sweden, particularly those on a list of political dissidents whose extradition is demanded by the Turkish government, have recently been targeted by a pro-government Turkish newspaper, which revealed their home addresses and published secretly taken photos. Last month the Sabah daily published the photos of journalists Bülent Keneş and Abdullah Bozkurt, who both live in Stockholm.

On Wednesday it was another Turkish journalist in exile in Stockholm, Levent Kenez, whose secretly taken photos and address were published by Sabah.

“President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s long arm reaches all the way to Sweden to crack down on dissidents. There are also examples of journalists who have been threatened and beaten up in Sweden after exposing the activities of the regime in Ankara,” Hyllert said.

Journalist Bozkurt sustained injuries in a 2020 attack by two men outside his home in Stockholm for his critical views on the Turkish government.

Similarly, another Turkish journalist living in exile in Sweden, Ahmet Dönmez, was severely beaten by two men in Stockholm in March after publishing a critical piece about Turkish state-mafia relations.

Those journalists are among the dozens of people who left Turkey in the aftermath of a failed coup in July 2016 to avoid a government-led post-coup crackdown targeting critical journalists as well as non-loyalist citizens.

They continue their job from abroad, and their reports and social media posts anger the government and its supporters as they talk about the dirty relations of the Turkish government and President Erdoğan with crime groups and radical organizations as well as their corruption.

Hyllert pointed out that by portraying regime critics such as the Swedish-based journalists as terrorists and criminals, Turkey is trying to use democratic principles to put pressure on Sweden.

She also argued that Turkey has long since abandoned all democratic principles, citing several international reports such as those from V-Dem, Freedom House and EIU, which all paint a bleak picture of freedoms in the country.

Hyllert also said President Erdoğan wanted to take advantage of NATO negotiations to silence critical voices about Turkey from Sweden and that the Swedish government therefore needed to take a clear stand for freedom of expression.

“Sweden must stop pretending that the demands Turkey is putting forward in the NATO negotiations are based on democratic grounds,” Hyllert added.

“The journalists who are being hunted by Erdoğan in Sweden must be protected by the Swedish authorities. We demand that in the talks with Turkey, the government work to protect human rights in a way befitting a democracy like Sweden,” she said.

A non-binding deal Sweden and fellow NATO aspirant Finland signed with Turkey in June commits them to “expeditiously and thoroughly” examine Ankara’s requests for suspects linked to the faith-based Gülen movement, which is labeled as the mastermind of a failed coup and a “terrorist organization” by the Turkish government, as well as members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.

Both Swedish and Finnish government officials said they will continue to respect national and international laws regarding Turkey’s extradition requests and that the decision for extraditions will be up to independent authorities and the courts.

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